"It's very brave of them"

Everyone who’s tired of the media—and Madonna—calling Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger “brave” for acting in Brokeback Mountain, please raise your hands. Then say it with me: “poppycock”

BY Charles Karel Bouley II

December 13 2005 1:00 AM ET

It started eating
at me when I saw a little preview on Logo for upcoming
movies. It said, “Logo salutes those who were brave
enough to play gay...” or something like that.
It stuck in my craw (or whatever the human equivalent
is) for days: brave enough to play gay. But since I have
ADD (no, not attention deficit disorder, aging diva
disorder), I quickly forgot and moved on.

Then the topic
again came into view, and craw, with weeks of prerelease
coverage of Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee’s
Brokeback Mountain, which stars two allegedly
straight hunks, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Even
before the movie was released, the accolades for these
two began pouring forth. Gay Goddess Madonna saw the
film and told the British magazine Attitude,
“They’re really good, those boys, and
they did a great job. It’s very brave of
them.”

And
there’s the problem. The media seem to be running
with a recurring theme around this movie: the
“bravery” of the actors playing the roles,
the “courage” it took them to do it, and the
“speculation” about whether America is
ready for a “gay cowboy movie.” Certainly not
a position a liberal would take, so it befuddles me
how the media is labeled “liberal.”
Because the media has all but compared these two to war
heroes for their portrayal of two closeted cowboys in
a story of unrequited love and personal deception.

Say it with me:
poppycock.

Now, there can be
no doubt it took awhile for this movie to be made. And
there can be no doubt there was a lot of fear surrounding
it. And that’s what the media should be talking
about. Instead of playing into the homophobia about
how courageous it is to play gay, the media should be
examining why it’s OK to play a rapist, a demon, a
vampire from hell, a serial killer who eats his
victims with fava beans and nice chianti, or any of
the hundreds of sick, warped, twisted characters Hollywood
puts out and we gobble up. Why do studios green-light
films all the time that have gruesome plots or
despicable characters, and why did this film languish
for years?

If it really is
the gay thing, then the media needs to take Hollywood to
task, instead of lauding the courage of the people who ended
up making the film.

According to the
Hollywood Reporter’s story of
November 11, the movie struggled for years to get made, in
part because no actors would commit. According to the
story, actors would read it, love it, and then their
agents would advise them against it even though it
was, according to most, the best script they’d read
in years. Those actors obviously had no courage in
turning down the script, according to the press, yet
not one interview has been done with the interviewer
calling such an actor a coward. We can laud the heroes but
not call out the cowards, I suppose.

The
media’s obsession with the “courage”
and “bravery” is just plain crap. First
of all, I thought Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were
actors, as was every person who turned down the script. And
I thought actors were paid, often large amounts, to be
somebody else. In other words, they are paid to play
people who are not themselves. So why on earth would
playing gay be a problem? Actors take on roles all the time
embodying despicable or reprehensible characters. No one
clamors to them and tells them how brave they are. But
the media make a big deal when a straight guy kisses
another straight guy on-camera. (Or a woman kisses a
woman, for that matter—remember Mariel Hemingway and
Roseanne?)

Are they, and
thus America, so insecure that they actually believe if two
guys kiss on-screen, they’re gay off-screen? Bi?
Curious? Are we still that much in the dark ages when
it comes to being gay? Can we all just finally agree
that it is not learned, it is not forced, it is as organic
as breathing? And just because a person “acts”
gay doesn’t mean they “are” gay.
So when an actor acts, he is doing just that, and when the
lights go off he goes back to his Hollywood starlet.

Now, before I
continue on this rant, another thought comes to mind. And
yes, I’ll go down a slippery slope. Since there are
so few gay movies made, this is supposed to be the
first gay western ever made; and since there are many,
many gay actors in Hollywood, would it have been too much
to ask to find two for these roles? Oh, but that
wouldn’t be a big deal. I mean, gay people
playing gay people. Where would the hoopla be in that?
And besides, no gay actor is talented enough/famous
enough/could possibly pull it off, right? No, if
we’re going to make a gay film, a
groundbreaking gay film, we’d better use straight
people.

Why has no one in
the mainstream media studied why gay people can’t
seem to make a mainstream gay film with gay actors
playing the parts?

Yes, I know gay
people play straight people all the time in movies, in
life, at work—and no one writes on and on about their
bravery. Oh, the courage they must muster, right? I
mean, if it takes so much courage for a straight guy
to play a gay person, then imagine what it must be for a
gay person to play straight. How does Rupert Everett or Sir
Ian McKellen do it? I seem to have missed the volumes
written about the courage of gay actors playing
straight.

Look, this may
well be the best gay film ever made. Ang Lee is brilliant,
and I am a fan of both Ledger and Gyllenhaal, and as a gay
man I would pay big bucks to see them make out, so the
$10 admission and $75 at the snack bar will be
nothing.

But can we stop
with the bravery thing?

First of all,
they were paid. What would you do for a hundred thousand? A
million? A couple million? I’d kiss a Republican
woman on-camera for that—hell, I’d even
kiss Ann Coulter for a few million. Talk about
bravery!

Second...perspective, people, perspective. If gays and
lesbians are to be truly recognized as full-fledged
humans with all rights afforded forthwith, then we
have to stop making such a big deal about things like
Brokeback Mountain. Just as I believe we must
stop awarding people like Tom Cruise damages and instead say
“So what?” when someone says
they’re gay. We have to progress to a point where
being gay is not only not libelous but not newsworthy.

Yes, I’ve
gotten a lot of press out of being an openly gay talk-show
host, mainly because I’m one of the few. I’m a
rare bird in a rare club. When I become less rare;
when there’s many openly gay talk-show hosts on
major-market radio; when there’s lots of mainstream
movies with gay plots or subplots; and when courts
stop giving people millions for being called gay, then
we will have finally gained some perspective.

You know what
would have been truly brave? If Ledger and Gyllenhaal had
come out swinging. If they had come out and said
“Yup, these guys are gay, and we played them,
and what’s the big deal?” What would have been
really brave would have been to green-light this
“incredible” script years earlier
instead of cowering in the corner. But even they, Heath and
Jake, in trying to defuse the issue and get back to the
story and the movie, have actually
“de-gayed” the film.

During an MSN
interview on a junket with Matt Damon for the Brothers
Grimm
movie, Ledger stated, “The idea I had
to make out with Jake...just wasn’t the easiest thing
to do. It is a beautiful story, a beautiful script. It
was definitely a real sense of accomplishment once I
finished. I had so much fear for the project and the
story and, you know, had to be brave. I definitely came out
thinking ‘[Expletive], I can do
anything,’ you know?”

Odd that Ledger
would find this role most brave. After all, he’s
played the outlaw and revolutionary Ned Kelly; a
“sin eater” who confronts evil in its
purest form; a drugged-out skateboard-shop owner; and
he’s about to play the nefarious Casanova. I
would think playing a guy who eats sins would be
braver than a fag—after all, you’re messing
with God and the Devil.

Gyllenhaal has
also been out doing the media rounds and has been quoted
by everyone from here to Australia as saying things like
“These aren’t gay guys, they’re
two souls that fall in love.”

Each actor has
actually trivialized the gay aspect of the film by
removing the word gay from the character description.
Instead, they’re two souls, two people, two
hearts that fall in love, not two gay men. I
understand why they are doing that. They’re trying to
focus on the story, on the movie, and trying to focus
the press on what it would be asking and covering if
this script were about a man and woman in love. It’s
a valiant effort, and I applaud them, but it’s
also misguided. Because by doing so, by deflecting the
entire gay issue, they make it an even bigger issue.

Bravery? No. When
I look at Brokeback Mountain all I see is fear.
In the story, I see the fear of two obviously gay
people too afraid to actually commit to their love, so they
run off and marry women and live a life unfulfilled
out of fear.

I see the fear in
two major stars of actually admitting they played gay,
as they downplay in the press their characters’
sexuality.

I see the fear of
movie studios too afraid to make the movie with Gus Van
Sant years ago.

I see the fear of
countless Hollywood actors who wouldn’t take the
parts.

I see the fear of
a still-homophobic corporate press, which grabs onto
the stars’ sexuality instead of the script’s
quality. A press that gives these stars an outlet to
gauge their “comfort level” with playing these
roles. A press that throws around words like bravery and
courage when referring to pampered stars playing
well-scripted roles.

I see the fear of
theater owners, who already are hesitant to book this
film in smaller markets.

I see the fear in
filmmakers like Lee who make “gay” movies
without the “gay,” meaning gay people
are deluged with images of heterosexual lovemaking
everywhere, but should a gay couple show it
on-screen—oh, no, we must hide the sex.

I see the fear in
those in Wyoming, who have already spoken out saying
there’s just no such thing as gay cowboys. (Well,
hon, 12 men, 100 head of cattle, three months away
from civilization...somebody was getting some.)

I see the fear of
the critics, who say things like New York Daily News
critic Jack Mathews did when he predicted that it may
be “too much for red-state audiences, but it
gives the liberal-leaning Academy a great chance to stick
its thumb in conservatives’ eyes.”

Yes, I see a lot
of fear around Brokeback Mountain. As for
courage? Did it take courage to make it? Did it take
courage to play the parts? Will it take courage for the
theaters to play it?

Alan Ball,
director of American Beauty and creator of the
award-winning series Six Feet Under, was asked
about straight actors playing gay characters on his
HBO series. His answer sums it all up best:

“I'm not a
big subscriber to the idea that for a straight actor to play
gay now is a huge act of bravery, but I do believe that for
a straight actor to not want to play a character
because he’s gay is a huge act of
cowardice.”

Seems Hollywood
is full of more cowards than heroes. So yes, kudos to
Jake and Heath and Ang. But let’s get to a point
where we can talk about the movie itself, not the
sexuality of the characters playing the roles, as Jake
and Heath have been trying to do. And let’s also get
to a point where playing a gay person is not more
courageous than playing a child molester or murdering
mob boss.

And to all you
straight actors who want pats on the back for playing gay:
Until you’ve lived gay, until you’ve been
denied a job because of it, or had to hide in a
Hollywood closet; until you’ve had your jaw smashed
or watched a generation of your friends die of a
disease while government did nothing (like in the
Reagan era), don’t speak to me of courage.

It takes courage
to be gay and out, not to play it.

Tags: Commentary

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